CirqueClub /// “Artist in training: Raphael Cruz”

Cirque Club Interviewed Raphael Cruz, an artist who took up the role of Romeo in Amaluna while he was training in Montreal. We wanted to know a little bit more about him and how he got into his role.

Q. Raphael, can you tell us a bit about how you got this far in your career?

RC: I’m from Vallejo, California and started doing Chinese acrobatics when I was 6 years old at a circus school in San Francisco. My parents wanted my older brother and me to do something physical and something musical as well. For about 9 years, I mostly practiced the Chinese Pole, hoop diving, general acrobatics, and teeter board. I basically spent my childhood skateboarding in San Francisco, going to piano lessons, and attending circus school.

At 15, my brother, who’s three years older than me, was wondering what to do with his life. That’s when the Californian co-founders of the circus company Les 7 doigts de la main, (7 Fingers) Gypsy Snider and Shana Carrol, advised my brother to go to Circus School in Montreal. We had never really thought about taking it seriously and thinking of it as a career. I was really close to my brother – we grew up doing everything together – so when he went for his audition, I didn’t want to stay behind in California by myself and decided to audition as well. And we both got in!

So I entered Canada’s National Circus School at 15 and did a hand-to-hand act with my brother. After school finished, I joined 7 Fingers right away as part of the resident cast in Traces and stayed with them for four-and-a-half years. I was supposed to appear in IRIS in 2009 but it was postponed for eighteen months so I did a lot of other things in the meantime: cabarets in Germany, a contemporary dance show in Montreal…


Q. You’ve already worked with Cirque du Soleil – can you tell us more about it?

IRIS was my first Cirque du Soleil show. I was cast because when doing Traces, we performed in Paris and Philippe Decouflé, director-choreographer, came to see the show and we hit it off. We started talking about me performing in IRIS and I came to Montreal to do some workshops and research for the trampoline acts. He offered me the title role and at first I was intimidated to play the main character. But it was a huge opportunity for me, and I ended up playing Buster in IRIS from 2011 to January 2013.

After IRIS, I went back to 7 Fingers and did some special events with them. I then played in Murmure des coquelicots at Montreal’s TNM theater. It was a mix of traditional theater and contemporary circus which I found super interesting. It was a really ambitious project written by Sébastien Soldevila (also from 7 Fingers) and it was exciting for me to share the stage with professional actors and mix both worlds.

More recently, I went to Sochi in Russia as assistant choreographer (Sébastien Soldevila was the head choreographer) for part of the opening ceremonies. This was my second time on the other side of the stage (I did choreography for Traces when I was injured) but the first time that I was really able to be involved in creating something. Then lastly I played Marius in Intersection, a 7 Fingers show at Montreal’s TOHU.

Q. What can you tell us about Amaluna and its themes?

I didn’t know anything about it before they contacted me, in fact I hadn’t even seen it. Even now, I’ve never watched the entire show on DVD. I still don’t know much about the show and I need to be more involved as I’m currently focusing on my acts and scenes rather than the show as a whole. The goal right now is to learn what I myself need to do then look at the big pitcure.

Q. Unlike IRIS, where you were involved in the process from day one, you’re taking over a pre-existing role in a show that has been touring for over two years. How are you dealing with that and can you bring your own personal touch to the part of Romeo?

Well, my philosophy on that subject is that I can never play it the same way as another performer anyway. It’s important that you express yourself when you’re on stage, so in reality you can’t express the same things as someone else. I do have the freedom to add my personal touch. I have to respect the choreography, the blocking and things like that but I think in terms of intention, energy, all of that, and there’s a lot of room for interpretation. It’s a good thing, as the way the character is currently being played is not really me (he’s very physical).

Q. What made you accept this role?

I had room in my schedule. When the Cirque du Soleil casting team offered me the role in August, I was torn, as I’m really interested in being on the other side of the stage, in creating things. But this role does pose certain challenges: for instance, I’ve never had a purely solo act before, as well as the fact that I’m not a Chinese Pole specialist.

Q. How have you prepared for playing Romeo? Did you need any special training?

I’ll be playing Romeo in both Atlanta and Miami until December 31, and I arrived in Montreal in mid-August. The training started at the beginning of September and is split into different parts:

  • 2 hours per day of act training with a technical coach and an artistic coach to put together the acts.
  • 2 hours per day of trick training with the technical coach. This is mainly focused on Chinese Pole techniques.
  • 1.5 hours per day of character training (watching the video, working on the blocking, thinking about how I will approach the role).

One other thing is that I have to learn how to apply the character’s makeup. That involves a session where a makeup artist puts it on me first while I watch what they’re doing, and then they give me all the stuff and I try to do it by myself while they watch me, and so on.


Q. Did this role pose any particular challenges?

The training period is very short because I’m leaving for Atlanta on September 26. Training periods are usually longer than that. The Chinese Pole is a challenge for me too, but the rest is totally fine, including the water bowl act.

Q. Have you ever been to Miami or Atlanta?

Miami, yes, a long time ago. As for Atlanta, I don’t think so. I’m excited, because it’s really like visiting two new cities for me. Oh yeah, and the other factor is that Miami in December is way nicer than Montreal in December :).

Q. Have you ever performed under the big top? If so, how is it different from other stage settings?

I did play big tops for Traces and in other circus festivals but it will be my first time performing under the big top for Cirque du Soleil. In a way, all stages are different, but a big top isn’t particularly different compared to traditional theaters. Arenas are another matter, as they aren’t really as intimate as a big top, so I’m excited to perform there.

Q. You mentioned starting working in the circus at age six. Can you share with us your view of what it takes to become a good circus performer? Are there any special traits or skills you should have?

I think being a good circus artist is about being a good performer, it’s not just about doing specific tricks. It’s really linked to the way you express yourself, the confidence to believe 100% in what you’re doing, no matter what it is. This is the exact situation with me playing Romeo: the role itself isn’t me at all but I’m going to believe in it 150%.

Q. Would you like to stay with the same show for the long term?

Where I am in my career right now, no. Because I want to have different experiences, learn as much as I can. I love taking part in the creation of shows, so my goal is not to stay with the same show for two years.


Q. You’re also a musician. Can you tell us more?

I’m composing some music for 7 Fingers for their new show in October at TOHU. I’m working on the piano pieces for that. I’m also playing a little bit of guitar, which is something fairly new for me. Again, it’s good for me to develop different skills because they help me gain an overall vision of a show, from the technical acts to the choreography and music. I like every part of it and discovering more about it.

Q. You’ve been injured several times. How do you deal with that?

It really is the worst thing of all. I don’t think there are many acrobats who have not been injured though – it’s just part of our job. You basically have to make sure you handle it properly when you’re injured, be patient, and don’t come back too quickly.

And Raphael had a special word for our members:

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The Cirque Club team has also gathered a few words from Michoue Sylvain an Artist Trainer who helped Raphael get into his role. Here’s what she had to say about the process: When Cirque du Soleil welcomes a new artist to train for a pre-existing part, it’s totally impossible to do a “cut-and-paste”. We need to quickly pinpoint their artistic and acrobatic strengths and accentuate them to add the touch of originality that will help them shine and give them the feeling they are bringing something new to the role they’ve been cast to play.

For a role which involves more acting, we have to make them understand the motivation behind each movement. And we do whatever it takes. I often make them improvise scenarios that require the same emotions, while distancing them as much as possible from the scene itself. This is how an artist gets a feeling for and can perform the scenario without feeling the constraints of needing to respect the real staging or keeping time with the actual music. Once they’re able to channel the scenario’s emotional state, we refine the actions and gestures, then begin to integrate the staging, with everything that implies: supporting the acting and characterization, reacting to others (even if in training the artist is alone in the studio!), navigating the space, and keeping time with the music.

With each artist there’s a new challenge. Every Cirque du Soleil artist arrives with their own background. Some, like Raphael Cruz, are multidisciplinary artists who already have a great deal of stage experience. I call them hybrid artists – they move well, their body channels emotions fluidly, they know how to dance, they often play a musical instrument and, of course, they are excellent acrobats. With them, our job is basically to refine their abilities, like with any professional artist. But other times, we receive candidates who have almost no training or artistic experience; their profile is purely acrobatic. We then need to start with the basics and get them to see how the same movement can be expressed in a thousand different ways. We have to make them understand that a gesture only touches the audience when it’s linked to a particular emotional state. It’s a tall order, but there’s always some kind of sensitivity in every individual and a universal desire to express themselves. We just have to find the key to unlock the door…

{ SOURCE: CirqueClub | }